By Jess Dahl, Ellensburg
As much as we talk about freshmen in our collegiate churches, only a select few of us might be in an easy position to reach them. The honest truth is that many of us are quick to count ourselves out of the freshmen game. Maybe you’re a senior just trying to graduate. Maybe your memories of freshman year include handwritten notes, T-9 texting, or even floppy disks. Either way, it is easy for freshmen to be out of sight out of mind. With how much our church talks about reaching freshmen, you only have two choices: Decide they must be talking to someone else, tune out, and find another church that leaves you alone. Or you can pray about your role in the next generation and find a way to get in the game.
It is typically the hard things that are most worth doing, and living toward freshmen is hard. It is costly of your time and your pride. As you get older, it is rarely a natural connection and takes concentrated intention. Like any burden, it is impossible to care unless you cultivate it. As you rub shoulders with freshmen, you will rediscover the imperative we have to reach them. Here are some practical ways that you can cultivate a burden for freshmen and personally get in the game.
Remember yourself at eighteen
Remember who you were your freshman year. You most likely are not the same person in many ways. Many of us can still recall someone who impacted our lives freshmen year, for better or worse. Remember how lost, insecure, desperate you felt? Empathy is important when it comes to reaching freshmen. They may act secure and like they don’t need someone, but truth is they do. They are longing for someone to follow and to speak a secure identity over them. This is a role you can fill if you are willing.
2. Invest in the people who are investing in freshmen
If you have a family and are never around the college campus, let alone the dorms, reaching freshmen might feel impossible. But your impact can have a trickle down effect if you invest in the staff and student leaders who are giving their lives to reach freshmen. Take a freshman leader out to coffee, pray for them, text them, encourage them. They are on the front lines of battle on our campuses. They are taking risks and getting rejected. They are praying for vision and innovation, asking God to do a new work and to see revival among this young class full of potential. They are not in a battle of flesh and blood, but in a battle for souls (Eph. 6:12). They need strong believers in their corner. This is the easiest thing on this list, and I encourage all of us to seek out a leader in our church to pray for and invest in.
3. Pray for freshmen to impact the world
Don’t forget why we do this. Freshmen represent a fraction of the local unreached people group of collegians in the US. They are the most reachable of the unreached. They are not the only people our hearts should break for, but they are a good place to start. If they can be reached and mobilized over their college career, they will impact the nations, the homeless, the economic disparity, the social justice, the places of little gospel presence. They are not necessarily a means to an end, but they are the beginning of movement.
4. Offer to host at your house
If you live anywhere other than a dorm, you immediately have something to offer. Within collegiate church contexts, there are many opportunities to host leader dinners, sleepovers, vision nights, in-town retreats, or just a movie night. Ask a freshmen leader if there are any events coming up and how you can help. Even if your space isn’t perfect for hosting, it allows you to have freshmen in your home and provides an easy way to meet students you might not naturally connect with.
5. Invite them into your life
While you might not be their small group or huddle leader, freshmen benefit from multiple touch points in that first year to draw them into community. Eighteen year olds seem content with the all-nighter, red-bull for breakfast, sleep until noon lifestyle, but the truth is they want your life. If you’re an upperclassman with an apartment, they want to see what life is like for you. If you have a family and a minivan, they might mock you but they want to peek behind the curtain and know what it’s like. Continue to pray for the freshmen you meet and the class as a whole, asking God to move and allow your church to have favor and influence in their lives. He might even use you to do that. Be ready, humble, and willing.
Josiah Cagle is a recently married Resonate Church staff member in Ellensburg, WA who had his life radically changed by the gospel his freshman year. Although he could easily count himself out now that his life looks more settled, he and his wife have committed to reaching freshmen this year. I asked him why, and this was his response:
“Every year as we gear up for a new class of freshman to move in I am reminded of my freshman year. I am reminded how dark and lonely of a place I was in even though nobody around me would believe that. I am reminded that by God’s grace alone he sent older students, graduates, and real adults into my life to bring me His good news. I am unbelievably grateful for their sacrifice to pursue freshmen, for the role models they were. Now I get to reach freshman who are in the same boat I was. I get the privilege of bringing them the same good news. And it truly is that; a privilege. With all glory to God, I can help change the lives of 18 year olds by showing them who our savior is. It's an incredible call, and I'm thankful every day.”
How is God asking you to get in the game and be a part of reaching freshmen this year?